State panel to discuss fishing ban on Elwha River during meeting in Port Angeles

OLYMPIA — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission will tour the Elwha River watershed after a briefing on fish populations and a discussion of a fishing moratorium extension when it meets in Port Angeles on Friday.

The commission, a citizen panel appointed by the governor to set policy for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, will convene at 8 a.m. Friday and Saturday at the Red Lion Hotel, 221 N. Lincoln St., in Port Angeles.

The group is expected to take action on the protective status of fishers and five whale species at a session beginning at 10:20 a.m. Friday with public comment accepted.

Deliberation of the status of yellow-billed cuckoos and loggerhead sea turtles will follow closely, scheduled for 10:40 a.m. Friday.

The group also will be briefed on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s determining factors for considering a stock as overfished.

At 2:50 p.m. Friday, the panel will hear about salmon and steelhead populations in the Elwha River after two dams were removed. They will talk about the extension of a fishing moratorium earlier this year on the river. The ban was initially implemented in 2011.

Then they will tour the watershed. The public can attend but must provide their own transportation.

The Friday meeting will end after the tour. Saturday’s gathering will end at 9:45 a.m.

Open public input periods — for issues that lack public input time on the agenda — are set at 8:15 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. Friday and at 8 a.m. Saturday.

A complete agenda is available at meetings.html.

Commissioners will consider state Department of Fish and Wildlife’s recommendation to list yellow-billed cuckoos as an endangered species in Washington state and to elevate the level of state protection for loggerhead sea turtles from threatened to endangered.

In 2014, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service distinguished the cuckoo in western North America as a distinct population and listed it as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. The north Pacific population of loggerhead sea turtles has declined substantially since the last half of the 20th century, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission said in a press release.

Commissioners also will conduct a public hearing and consider state wildlife managers’ recommendation to keep blue, fin, sei, North Pacific right and sperm whales as state endangered species in Washington.

Those whales have been listed as endangered species in Washington since 1981, the commission said in the release.

Populations of all five species greatly declined in the 1800s and 1900s from being severely overharvested by whalers.

“All five species face potentially significant threats from one or more factors, including collisions with ships, entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris and climate change,” the release said.

Additionally, the commission will consider the recommendation to keep fishers, which are mid-sized members of the weasel family, on the state’s endangered species list.

Fishers were eliminated from the state in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

They were reintroduced to Olympic National Park and to the Cascade Mountains.

“Despite these efforts, fisher populations in the state do not yet meet the criteria outlined in the species recovery plan that would allow fishers to be downlisted,” the release said.

Recommendations can be found at endangered/status_review/.

In a report at 8:35 a.m. Friday, Fish and Wildlife Director Jim Unsworth will update the commission on wolf conservation and management, the recent release of Atlantic salmon from a Cooke Aquaculture net pen near the San Juan Islands, operations at the Wells Hatchery in north central Washington and the agency’s response to legislative direction given in the 2017-19 budget.

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